Mind Games: Put yourself in Dewald’s shoes

It was a match that caused thousands at Loftus and many more watching on television to ascribe to Jake White’s contention that South African rugby players are not as clever as their Australian counterparts.

The Super Rugby semifinal between the Bulls and the Brumbies engendered plenty of anger and most of the opprobrium was aimed at Bulls captain Dewald Potgieter.

Sadly, the fact of Potgieter’s central role in a bizarre 12 minutes of play tended to spoil the real story.

The blond captain was not the only one at fault for South Africa’s challenge in the competition ending – in fact, his actions might have been right in the context of the match.

Instead of stricture, Potgieter should be praised for taking the blame rather than defending himself by pointing out the errors of others that led to the Bulls’ demise.

In no small measure, for instance, the captain might have been stitched up by interference from the coach’s box; he was certainly let down by certain of his team-mates, not to mention some questionable calls by the referee.

The last quarter of the game was as weird as I can recall. In the 60th minute, a penalty by Morné Steyn gave the Bulls the lead for the first time, 20-19.

Next, they survived some tense moments on their goal line, including Steyn having a clearance charged down, before the bizarre incident of replacement Jürgen Visser being penalised for not knowing the law and getting in the way of Jesse Mogg as he tried to field a clearance kick alongside the Bulls’ bench.

But the Bulls survived this crisis, moved play upfield, and, in the 67th minute, were awarded a penalty well within Steyn’s range.

What does Potgieter do? Go for the penalty to make sure the Brumbies can’t get back in front with a penalty or drop, or try to put them two scores in arrears?

He decides on the latter and instructs Steyn to kick for touch to set up a driving maul off a line-out – one of the Bulls’ default tactics. A converted try would make the score 27-19 with 12 minutes left to play.

But now it starts to go pear-shaped. At this crucial juncture, coach Frans Ludeke sends on three replacements to join the line-out in the place of Chiliboy Ralepelle, Werner Kruger and the boisterous Jacques Potgieter.

Dewald Potgieter manages to win the line-out throw. The maul is set, but all the players go to ground (should the Brumbies have been penalised for pulling it down?) and the Bulls are forced to play the ball – only to be called up for a pass between Steyn and Engelbrecht that is no more forward than the later match-winning pass between Joe Tomane and Tevita Kuridrani.

The Bulls get another penalty and again Potgieter goes for the coup de grâce, but Van der Merwe can’t hold the short, hard throw.

They get another and again the call is go for touch. This time, the line-out is lost but Kimlin is not penalised for jumping across into Hattingh. The next line-out throw is called crooked but Mowen is not penalised for crossing at the front.

Then comes the fourth penalty and this time the coach’s message has got through to Potgieter and he points to the posts. Steyn slots the kick to make it 23-19 and the Brumbies kick off with just over four minutes left.

Potgieter’s fear of allowing the Australians into his team’s half are about to come true. But still, the Bulls could have saved it. They get a turnover, but instead of slowing things down and going into the pick and drive they do so well Vermaak makes an edgy clearance to Steyn and the fly half responds with a dreadful, off-balance kick straight to Tomane, who sets in motion the Brumbies’ winning sequence.

Even then, Kuridrani’s try might have been averted had Basson not charged up out of line and had referee Craig Joubert found the same fault with Ben Alexander’s binding as Romain Poite did in the final of the British Lions series.

Potgieter had his wits about him – it was others who panicked. The Bulls, indeed other South African sides, need to ask whether, in the same circumstances, they would have been able to create that winning try. I think not.

Is Meyer wedded to the 4×4 approach or is there room for one or two F1 racers? Will it be bash, batter and boot or will the Boks have the X factor?

Or will the coach look at the dynamic forwards in the Italian line-up, take in the recent resurgence of the Scots and think, “we better not lose to these guys”?

Keep an eye on the Boks – the next three weekends are going to be most revealing.

» dan.retief@citypress.co.za

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